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No. 10 Cougs get off to flying start by dominating EWU

Posted by Jeff Nusser on November 10, 2007

So, it’s never great to make a mistake on your second post. That said, while I was mad at myself for saying the game wasn’t on TV — it was, outside of the Seattle area and on FCS — my anger was far outweighed by my happiness that I got to watch my boys in their season opener.

And what a show it was.

It certainly wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t the kind of performance that’s going to make the national pundits sit up and take notice — after all, as I’m writing this at 9 a.m., there is no mention of the game on ESPN.com’s college hoops page. But it was the kind of game that should leave Coug fans absolutely beaming.

First off, there’s only so much you can read into the first game of the season against a terrible opponent. And Eastern is TERRIBLE. But there were some very, very positive signs for a team that is going to spend most of its season as the hunted.

At least for the first game, the No. 10 Cougs clearly have resumed their take-nothing-for-granted mentality. They were focused from the tip and played their game throughout. Although the offense sputtered at times in the first half, the defense looked to be in midseason form already. The Eagles were harassed all game, could get absolutely no penetration whatsoever, and settled for 3s — a bad strategy for a bad shooting team, but really all they were left with.

It might have just been because it was opening night, but if the Cougs can maintain that kind of intensity throughout the nonconference schedule they’ll cakewalk through the bevy of overmatched foes.

I also noticed was how great Aron Baynes looked. I always cringe when I hear reports of a guy “looking better than he ever has” or “coming to camp lighter” because it rarely lives up to the hype, but they weren’t kidding about Baynes. I saw him at the Cougar Country Drive-In about a month ago when I was in town for homecoming and I couldn’t tell it there, but the guy looks like he’s lost about four inches off his waist and transferred it to his chest and biceps.

Beyond that, he looks like he’s ready to become a consistent force on the offensive end. Granted, Eastern had nobody who could even come close to matching him, but he is going to be a load to keep off the block for just about everyone in the conference. He’s still a little slow on the pick and roll, his hands still are a bit suspect, and he still missed a couple of gimmes, but he more than made up for it with a couple of moves. On one, he finished with a little left-handed half-hook. On another, he made a strong dropstep, cleared out with a savvy little chicken wing, and dunked. Great footwork on both.

Will he be able to stay on the floor more than he did last year, though? That remains to be seen. I saw a lot of the same kind of reaches and and overzealous block attempts that got him into trouble last year, which concerns me a bit. Some of the stuff he got away with will be fouls in the Pac-10.

Other stuff I noticed:

  • I read in a story that Derrick Low hit the weight room, too, and that shows as well. (Seriously, check out the pipes above.) That will help him perhaps finish even better around the basket on teams that want to close out on his 3-point shots with abandon.
  • Whenever anyone talks about the Cougs’ awesome backcourt, it’s always Low and Weaver. But Taylor Rochestie looks like he’s picked up right where he left off. I’m not sure there’s a team in the country that can match up adequately with that threesome.
  • I can see why coaches are high on Thomas Abercrombie, but I can also see why he redshirted last year. He is far from a finished product, as he looks like he’s still growing into that lanky body. There also was one play during garbage time where his hustle was less than stellar getting back on defense as the Cougs gave up a layup. It was only garbage time, but that’s not the kind of thing that flies with Tony Bennett. He’s got some work to do.
  • Every time Nikola Koprivica touches the ball, something good happens. He doesn’t look full speed yet, but man — the dude just gets basketball. His game reminds me of Manu Ginobili the way he just seems to make the smart play and finish strong around the bucket. I will always wonder if he might have made a difference last year, as Low and Weaver wore down late in the season.
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